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Poster for the play

Spirits of the Ordinary {format} 6:02 Dmae Roberts

Sephaerdic Jews who emigrated to Mexico.

Broadcast: May 15 2003 on NPR Latino USA Subjects: Hispanic, International, Religious, Entertainment


by Dmae Roberts

INTRO: Crypto-Jews or Hidden Jews are Jews forced to adopt other religions and political philosophies while maintaining Jewish practices. During the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries, many Jews fled Europe and came to Mexico. There they took on Christianity as their public religion while at home they practiced Judaism. Through the years, many Crypto-Jewish practices became even more hidden to the point that many families didn't even know they were Jewish. A stage play Portland, OR, was created from a series of novels by Northwest Writer Kathleen Alcala to tell the story of her family in Northern Mexico during the 19th century and their discovery of theirJewish heritage. Produced with funding by Hearing Voices.

SOUND: Singing in synogogue

NORMAN GRANT: My name is Norman Grant. From Oklahoma originally. Crypto-Jew. My great grandfather was a Jew from Northern Mexico. We're not familiar which city but he moved from Mexico through Texas to Allen, Oklahoma. I was raised Baptist but found my roots back to Judaism. It was something that was calling me back to Judaism and slowly I was led back to it through Crypto services and here I am today.

KATHLEEN ALCALA: I'm Kathleen Alcala, and I'm the author of the book Spirits of the Ordinary. Originally the story of my great grandparents is that my great grandfather had the gold fever and was wasting all of their money so my great grandmother kicked him out of the house. A man deciding not to accept society's role for him goes out into the desert looking for what he thinks is some material manifestation of gold but in fact finding in the end finding a mystical or metaphysical gold that in the end benefits more people than himself.

SOUND: Singing fades up

KATHLEEN ALCALA: Spirituality and the unseen are around us embodied in the world as we live it everyday. This is very much a part of Mexican culture that the unseen is as important as the seen.

SOUND: Backstage talking.

OLGA SANCHEZ: I'm Olga Sanchez. I'm directing Spirits of the Ordinary by Kathleen Alcala and I'm also collaborating on the writing of the play with her. Actually the first time, I'd actually become aware of Crypto-Jews. Hidden Jews....was through Kathleen's novel. The idea of people whose families had come over when they had been in Spain had been forced to convert by the Spanish Inquisition but had maintained a Jewish identity. and so when they came to Mexico maintained that way of being Jewish which was to all outward appearance they were Catholic but none-the-less they maintained their Jewish heritage. They maintained Shabbat, kept Kosher, they celebrated their holidays.

The Jews of Spain actually had their own language called Ladino which is sort of a mixture of Spanish, Portugese and Hebrew. Sounds very Spanish, but not quite. Sounds Portugese but not quite. It's a Jewish language and that became the language of the Crypto-Jews althought they couldn't use it, there were still prayers…So the prayers in the book and in the play are not in Hebrew but in Ladino.


OLGA SANCHEZ: Asufreme con las redomas de vino, afloshame con las mazanas que dolorioza de amor yo. La igura espunto sus igos, y las vides ensierme dieron guezmo—alevanta ti, mi companyera, mi ermoza y anda a ti.

Sustain me in exile with dainty cakes, speak fragrant about me to comfort my dispertions—for bereft of Your Presence, I am sick with love….Arise, my love, my fair one and go forth.

SOUND: "Sunlight on a kitchen floor. The ticking of the clock...."

SANCHEZ: What happens to the son when he rejects his heritage... There's a battle when the authorities come chasing after him and Zacharias is forced to escape. He climbs a cliff and at the top and he watches all the death and once the battle's over he falls to his knees and he says…

Senis Israel, adonai alueno aga, Barosein quebo malento leo lambuiel, Oye Israel adoiai Judio.

I call this place Cumbres de los Muertos, for many died that I might reach these heights."


OLGA SANCHEZ: What is our free will and the will of God or fate and destiny? That's the big question of the play really. So is it the will of God for a religion to die out? A religion that celebrates God so deeply—for a tradition to die out or not?

SOUND: Shabbat Prayer

RABBI GARCIA: I'm Rabbi Josef Garcia at the synagogue of Avdey Torah Hayah. The very first Crypto-Jewish synagogue in the United States.


RABBI GARCIA To those people who are out there, who are seeking, you know who you are. Don't ever give up being Jewish. Do not get disappointed when rejected by those who have different ideas or opinions about who is and who is not a Jew. We can be both. We can be Latinos and we can be Jews.